“Real art is not knowing where you are going, but are listening intently to something you don’t understand. And if your ego doesn’t interfere, this something you don’t understand may guide you to much more than you ever expected.”
Robert Pirsig

October 2009

Christopher Alexander – Blue Dragonfly at Tofuku-ji

I think (though I’m not sure) that this is the story that was mentioned in Charles Eisenstein’s “Sacred Economics”, where Christopher Alexander first came into my awareness.

” … I was visiting Japan in 1967 … a temple in Kyoto … Tofuku-ji – ‘The only place left, where the old way is still visible, and understood’ …

… Inside the atmosphere was astonishing: wild grasses, bushes, stones. It was like overgrown nature, almost completely wild, and yet I felt that it was cultivated, and in use … I found myself on a tiny path that seemed to lead away from the temple … [it] went on and on, a shallow staircase, up into the hill, between two hedges. It was getting narrower and narrower all the time …

Suddenly it ended. To my surprise I could go no further. The path just stopped. The hedges closed. There was a small place at the top of the stair. I turned around and sat down. There was nowhere to sit, except on the top step, and that is where I sat, looking down on the temple precinct, watching it, tired, happy to sit there, quiet, only the wind now instead of the sounds of temple business. As I sat there, a blue dragonfly  came and landed on the stop beside me. It stayed. And as it stayed I was filled with the most extraordinary sensation. I was suddenly certain that the people who had built that place had done all this deliberately. I felt certain – no matter how peculiar or unlikely it sounds today, as I am telling it again – that they have made that place, knowing that the blue dragonfly would come and sit by me … while I sat on that stair, there was no doubt in my mind at all that there was a level of skill in the people who had made this place that I had never experienced before. I remember shivering as I became aware of my own ignorance.

… filled … by my awe in the face of what these people had know, and by the beauty of the place. Most of all I was simply shocked by the certainty that the people who made this place had done it with a level of skill far beyond anything that I had ever experienced …

To this day, I have never again has such a shaft strike me … The sensation of nature waking up, and human beings helping to make it wake, was luminous, like a hum. I feel a heavy longing, remembering it …

… we need to understand space as a material which is capable of awakening  …

* I visited Tofuku-ji again in 1992. With enormous sorrow, I found out that by then, it had been modified for tourists … The atmosphere I have described … has largely disappeared …”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

Nature of Order - Table of Contents"